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Principal Investigator: Dr. Celeste M. Condit
Dr. Tina M. Harris, Dr. Lijiang Shen
Research Assistants: (Lead) Marita Gronnvoll, Jamie Landau, Lanelle Wright, Nicole Hurt, Bethany Keeley, Angela Nowicki

 Background and Overview of the Study:

  • Genetic testing for common diseases is predicted to become widespread. 
  • Some evidence suggests that if people think genes cause health problems they also think those health problems cannot be avoided.   Because low-income people may already have high levels of fatalism, this belief may be particularly problematic.
  • Thinking about genes as interacting with behaviors may lower fatalism.

Research Goals and Design

  • Our first goal is to understand whether lay people understand genes as interacting with behaviors.  We also wanted to see if messages about genes make people more fatalistic.
  • Our second goal is to develop messages that teach the idea that genes and behaviors interact.
  • Our third goal is to compare the impact of messages based on gene-behavior interaction to messages emphasizing other kinds of genetic causation.
  • We are using interviews, surveys, and experimental comparisons.

What We Are Learning

Condit, C.M. Gronnvoll, M., Landau, J., Shen, L., Wright, L., Harris, T.M. (in press). Believing in both genetic determinism and behavioral action: a materialist framework and implications. Public Understanding of Science.

  • Method: A series of 50 semi-structured interviews of low income White and African Americans in rural and urban Georgia cities.
  • Results suggest that laypeople have incorporated two sets (or tracks) of public discourses—one that describes genetic causation and another that describes behavioral causation.  Each set is presumed to be encoded in different sets of neural networks in people’s minds. The tracks are cued separately.

Cheng, Y., Condit, C.M., Flannery, D. (2008). Depiction of gene-environment relationships in online medical recommendations. Genetics in Medicine. 10, (6), 450-456.

  • Method: Websites that make medical recommendations to lay people were reviewed to examine the presentation of genetic and behavioral causation and prevention.
  • Results show a clear prevalence of behavioral causation in online medical recommendations. When genetic information is presented in messages, genetic and environmental factors are depicted as independent contributors to health outcomes, rather than as interactive components that interact to produce one’s health status.

Shen, L., Condit, C.M., Wright, L. (2008). The psychometric property and validation of a fatalism scale. Psychology & Health

  • We conceptualized fatalism as a set of health beliefs that encompass the dimensions of predetermination, luck and pessimism. Using these dimensions, we sought to validate a fatalism scale that could be used across a wide range of health conditions and a broad set of cultures.
  • Method:  New items and items adapted from existing scales were used to create a fatalism survey.  These were administrated in a web-based national survey.  Confirmatory factor analysis resulted in a 20-item unidimensional scale of fatalism.

Keeley, B., Wright, L. Cheng, Y., Condit, C. M. Exploring the Functions of Fatalistic Talk in Health Interviews: Belief in Behavioural Control Cooccurs with Genetics, God, and Other Factors.

  • Method: Semi-structured interviews were used to gain understanding of lay individuals’ thoughts of genes, behavior and their impact on health. Fatalistic statements were identified and isolated.
  • We found that fatalistic statements always co-occur with positive assertions about the efficacy of behaviors for changing health outcomes. Fatalistic talk and belief that behavioral actions impact health suggests that participants use fatalism for functions other than thoughts of hopelessness and despair. Three functions of fatalistic talk are proposed including sense making, uncertainty management and stress relief.




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